When returning wildlife back to nature after their stay in a wildlife hospital, there are actually a few styles of releases. Examples include, a release back into the same family that a juvenile has come from, calling in a new parent to take care of a juvenile when their parents are gone, the release of an adult into appropriate habitat, and then there is the "soft release".
Soft release in birds of prey is referred to "hacking". The soft release allows an inexperienced juvenile to slowly get used to their new surroundings and adjust to life in the wild, while being partially supported. MRWC utilizes soft releases mainly for squirrels, flying squirrels, and moose calves.
It is very difficult to find wild foster families for the number of squirrels we receive. This year we have raised over 20 orphaned squirrels and last year we admitted a total of 68 squirrels! Squirrels are pretty secretive when raising their young so finding that many would be impossible.
The enclosure for our squirrels is equipped with a large duck box stuffed with rags. As the squirrels become active they instinctually begin to make a nest in the box. Once our squirrels are eating on their own, nearly adult sized, and very active in their enclosure, the soft release begins.
The box that they have called home is where they run to when they see us near the enclosure which is a good sign that they are wild and not friendly to people. When the enclosure is approached, they run inside and staff place a cover over the door to keep them inside. The box is then transported to the chosen release site and nailed into position on a tree providing plenty of shelter. Staff place some of the food they have been eating, mostly seeds and fruit, so they have something to start them off when they emerge. The cover is removed and staff leave, returning every day to replenish the food source. In high food season, like mid summer, this may not be necessary but if it is later in the season this could continue for several days to help the squirrels build their winter stash.
The goal is, for any patient that comes to us, is to keep them wild, understand their natural history, and return them where they will have the best chance of survival.